Alexander's Reviews > Age of Fracture

Age of Fracture by Daniel T. Rodgers
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's review
Jul 12, 2012

it was amazing
bookshelves: american-history, philosophy-and-religion, political-economy

The irony of The Age of Fracture is that it triumphs at asserting a style of historical scholarship that should not thrive in this age: a synthesis, in the style of Richard Hofstadter, Daniel Bell, or Christopher Lasch, that links ideas, politics and social change in an unabashedly essayistic style. And it's true that succeeding at this style is rare in an, um, age of fracture. But Rodgers produces a first draft of recent American history that every subsequent historian must address.

The argument, in short, is that the United States has shifted since the 1950s from big to small, not left to right as commonly misunderstood. In the postwar years, intellectuals, politicians and entrepreneurs focused on power and society, large if amorphous concepts, but more importantly concepts that forced questions about what unifies large groups of people and nation-states. Over time, the focus on large ideas and institutions was supplanted by the small: conservatism, certainly, but also the shifting interest in academia toward everyday life, identity and perspective. This is not intrinsically bad, Rodgers points out. But it has consequences for the decline of the liberal nation-state and the idea of nation itself, which affects how our public sphere functions (or doesn't). Like Hofstadter, Bell and Lasch, the book is unapologetically written to understand the present and the past. It's not easy reading, certainly. It helps to recognize John Rawls and William Julius Wilson, Judith Butler and Robert Nozick. But in another way, those who don't know those names might be best served to read this book. Because even if you are skeptical of Rodgers' conclusions, there is no doubt that he has written a sorely-needed, engaging intellectual history of the modern United States. It's an essential read for American historians and anyone who wants to understand the intellectual and political climate today.

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